We’re obsessed with the style of our fashionable friends on the other side of the big pond (Kathryn has legendary stores of spending 2 hours in the accessories section of the Oxford high street Topshop). British fashionista’s are little more willing to experiment with color (orange) and style (fascinators, aka, the crazy hats worn to the royal wedding). However, the exchange rate, which hovers between 1.5 to 2 times US dollars (ouch!) makes the concept of budget shopping in the UK, well, a hard task for a Yankee.
So we put together this handy guide to help you score British style on a budget.
How to Shop UK
Oxford Circus has all the best high street shops Britain has to offer, and many huge flagship stores, such as Topshop and Primark.
36-38 Great Castle Street, London, W1W 8LG
Topshop needs little introduction. Since starting out on the British high street, Topshop stores have opened all over the world, and most recently, New York. But the flagship store in Oxford Circus, London, is a must-see. Comprising four huge floors of fabulous, on-trend pieces, such as this tuxedo jacket, £55 ($110), Topshop is known for its unbeatably sensitive responses to the catwalk. Spot the ‘Balenciaga’ floral suit, the ‘Luella’ shirt, and the ‘Miu Miu’ skirt, all at a snip of the price. Spend a couple of hours in the Shoe Lounge – prices range from about £25 ($50) for a pair of ballet flats or gladiator sandals to £60 ($120) for some killer platform heels, and although they aren’t dirt cheap, the quality is great. Avoid at all costs the ‘vintage’ section – overpriced, charity-shop sourced rip-offs, and instead head to the denim section. Whether it’s ripped-up, acid wash skinnies you want, or indigo denim wide-legged jeans (TBF loves these, at £40/$80), there’s something to suit most budgets.
499-517 Oxford Street, London, W1K 7DA
Primark is a fast-fashion mecca, stacked to the brim with disposable fashion at unbelievable prices. The too-good-to-be-true prices mean that the quality of clothes isn’t the best (a hem coming undone here, a button falling off there) experiment with the most adventurous of trends (like the jumpsuit) without spending a small fortune on something you’ll never wear. This super mini dress a la Miu Miu is a bargain at £12 ($24), and in the sales, items are often reduced to just 50p ($1)! The basics are poor, scratchy and tend to shrink in the wash, but keep an eye out for the cashmere sweaters and cardigans, and the accessories section where you can find on-trend jewellery from £1 ($2), like this chunky Marni-esque necklace (£3/$6). The Oxford Street flagship is filled with shoppers fighting for the last must-have bargain. TBF much prefers the Birmingham store. Top tip: go there on weekdays to avoid the weekend rush.
500-502 Oxford Street, London, W1C 2HW
New Look is yet another bargainous destination on the British high street with a really great plus size range (Inspire), and has recently added large shoe lounges to the bigger stores, much to the delight of budget fashionistas everywhere, as New Look’s shoes are some of their strongest trend items. Co-ordinate your shoes to your outfit, with some heeled Mary-Janes in a variety of candy colours, from about £25 ($50). This season, the store’s designers have taken inspiration from the fifties: the key pieces to look out for include this floral-print prom dress (£28/$56) and this retro polka dot bikini (complete with Brigitte Bardot-style high-waisted bottoms), £20 ($40). Finish your look off with a pair of brightly-hued, oversized sunglasses, only £8 ($16).
Peacocks is often seen as Primark’s less fashionable cousin, but bargain shoppers should not underestimate this budget store. Because it’s a little off the fashion radar, you can find things at tiny prices, and unlike Primark, there are usually most sizes in stock. This safari shirt dress ticks all the boxes for this season, and is only £14 ($28). The shop also has a delectable selection of gladiator sandals, this summer’s must-have, at around £10 ($20) each.
THE BEST VINTAGE AND MARKETS
If you love vintage, then you’ll love Brick Lane. Take a wonder and you’re bound to find a one-of-a-kind vintage shop stacked to the brim with bargains from throughout the decades. Portobello Market is also worth a visit, but keep your eyes peeled for over-priced secondhand clothes.
110-112 Cheshire Street, E2 6EJ
Beyond Retro is a huge warehouse devoted entirely to vintage clothing and accessories. Arranged in colour-order, the shop is easy to navigate, unlike many other mish-mash thrift stores. There are rows upon rows of vintage logo t-shirts for about £15 ($30) each – a great present for a boyfriend or brother, or for yourself, if you belt at the waist. Although they’re a little pricier, it’s worth checking out the crazy, 80s taffeta prom dresses, and the beautiful antique Japanese kimonos.
91 Brick Lane, London, E1 6QL
Vintage is a Budget Fashionista’s best friend. You can pick up some unique pieces at bargainous prices, but London vintage dealers have become savvy to the demand for second-hand clothing, and in recent years the prices have soared. Absolute Vintage, Brick Lane’s best-kept secret, is one of the few places where you can still buy vintage at reasonable prices. Beyond Retro’s vast warehouse is certainly a spectacle, but if you want one-of-a-kind vintage on a budget, Absolute Vintage is the place to venture. There is a small clothing section, but the shop prides itself on its shoes and handbags. Pick up a pair of patent, black Bally court-shoes for £20 ($40), or a cute clutch for £15 ($30).
Located on Portobello Road, Portobello market is famous for its antiques. Fashion-wise, the market is made up of stalls selling expensive handmade clothing by up-and-coming designers (worth a look but not budget-friendly) and lots and lots of vintage. It’s up to the savvy shopper to sniff out the bargains from the overpriced pieces which aren’t vintage at all. Keep your eyes peeled for the £5 ($10) stalls – rummage through bubble skirts, broderie anglaise summer dresses and silk neckerchiefs, all £5. Don’t be afraid to haggle for a bargain! Tired shoppers need refreshments – visit the man who sells coconuts with straws in, just at the end of the clothing stalls.
OUT OF TOWN DEPARTMENT STORES
If the Oxford Circus crowds are too hellish for you, one of Britain’s out-of-town department stores, such as Matalan, might be more your thing. Want designer labels but without the huge price tag? Head to Britain’s favourite designer outlet, Bicester Village.
It’s the small prices that bring visitors to this out-of-town department store. If you can ignore the shapeless, old-fashioned t-shirts, there are some real hidden gems. TBF is loving Matalan’s new, fashion-forward collection, Et Vous: pair this chiffon, tiered-front top (£14/$28) with this sateen, tulip skirt (£14/$28) from the new range with these cut-out sandals (£18/$36). There is something to suit most shapes and sizes, as most of the ranges run from UK sizes 8-20. This graphic print dress, with black ribbon sash, will cinch you in in all the right places, and your purse will love you for it, at only £16 ($32).
50 Pingle Drive, Oxon, OX26 6WD
Bicester Village is an outlet shopping centre about an hour’s drive from London, but it is definitely worth the drive. Find loads of designer brands at discounted prices under one roof. For shoe fetishists there is Salvatore Ferragamo and Jimmy Choo, where shoppers have been known to grab a pair of Choos for £60 ($120). Pick up a discounted Anya Hindmarch purse, or a classic trench coat at Burberry or Aquascutum. The outlet Ralph Lauren store sells polo shirts and sweaters at a third of the price, or alternatively, head to Jack Wills, Britain’s answer to RL. If you lust after expensive, silk lingerie but can’t bring yourself to part with all that cash, you’ll love Bicester Village’s Agent Provocateur and Myla outlet stores – look out for AP’s signature seamed stockings for £10 ($20).